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South Hams District Councillor and current incumbent Devon County Councillor up for re-election, Jonathan Hawkins, called claims he breached Covid regulations “wholly untrue”.
Cllr Hawkins, who is South Hams District Council's Executive Member for Health and Wellbeing, was named by Dartmouth Town Councillor Dawn Shepherd, along with Nick Hindmarsh and former town councillor Maggie Bailee, at the Dartmouth Town Council meeting on Monday evening as those who had been in breach of Covid regulations when they organised a committee meeting at Townstal Community Hall.
Cllr Shepherd, who runs Dartmouth Community Chest, said that the hall was the community’s Covid Response Centre since the start of the pandemic and from there herself and her team of volunteers had been supporting Dartmouth people with a meal delivery service, as well as picking up prescriptions, performing shopping trips and other errands for people affected by lockdown. So far they have delivered more than 15,000 meals during the pandemic.
The incident in question took place on the 9th of March this year. While Cllr Shepherd was on a shopping trip for supplies for the Community Chest, she said the community hall committee held a meeting.
In her statement to the town council, Cllr Shepherd said that she confronted the group when she returned to the hall. “I said they shouldn’t be in there”, she explained “they were sitting around a table where we prepare food parcels for people with underlying health conditions who are shielding. I asked if they had done their temperature, filled in the track and trace form, sanitised their hands, been vaccinated? Nick Hindmarsh said yes, but later they admitted none of this happened.
“I took photos of them and asked them to leave, or I would phone the police.
“I gave a statement to the police and sent them the photos. The police charged them with breaking covid laws, and they have been ordered to do restorative justice, donating money to our charity. I asked for an apology to our community.”
When we approached Cllr Hawkins for a comment, he replied with a statement on behalf of himself, Nick Hindmarsh and Maggie Bailie, that said: “As someone who has lost two dear friends to Covid I find this accusation hurtful and scurrilous and I know that the others who attended the meeting feel similarly.
“I have always treated my health and that of others with paramount importance, especially during these past difficult 14 months. The accusation against all those present is totally untrue.
“Police investigated Dawn Shepherd's complaint and no action was taken against anyone present. To use an elected office to make knowingly false claims will not be tolerated.”
But he did confirm he had been asked to make a donation to "a charity of his choice".
When we later contacted Mr Hindmarsh, he wanted to retract that statement.
Devon and Cornwall Police said: "Police are aware of an allegation that a meeting between a group of town councillors took place in Dartmouth in April, which may have been in breach of COVID-19 regulations.
"This matter was not reported to police at the time and therefore officers did not attend the location while this incident was taking place.
"Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we have only issued fines when supported by evidence captured at the scene by our officers.
"Police will continue to use a 4 E's approach of escalation, where they will engage, explain and encourage organisers to follow the regulations, and only as a last resort use enforcement measures.
"The local neighbourhood team later spoke to a member of the group who was given words of advice in relation to this matter and their future conduct."
MAIN PHOTO: Photo taken by Cllr Shepherd showing the committee meeting taking place on the 9th of March. We have covered the faces of anyone not named publicly at the Dartmouth Town Council meeting.
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